If you’re over 40 and experiencing cognitive issues, you might be wondering, “Does menopause cause forgetfulness?”
Some surprising statistics give us deeper insight: 31% of premenopausal women experience forgetfulness; that number jumps to 44% in early perimenopause, and stays around 41% in late menopause and postmenopause.
This transition can bring a variety of unexpected changes, especially relating to brain function–but don’t fret. In this article, we’ll discuss why menopause “brain fog” happens, and what you can do about it.
Approaching menopause can cause memory and learning issues. Most people think this is a natural part of aging, but recent large-scale studies suggest there’s more to the story when it comes to women.
Past research didn’t quite pin down how long these “brain fog” symptoms last, hinting that they likely clear up after menopause. But a new, eye-opening study published in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), paints a different picture.
The study, involving more than 440 women, suggests that the stage of menopause plays a big part in cognitive health–and for many, the forgetfulness may not lift on its own in postmenopause.
Dr. Stephanie Faubion from NAMS, who contributed to the study, points out that we need more research to really understand these changes and why they differ from person to person.
So, while we don’t know whether menopause-related brain fog lasts forever, for some women–especially those with additional risk factors–it might.
But don’t worry too much; you can improve your cognitive health. We’ll explore some effective strategies; but first, let’s discuss why menopause can cause forgetfulness.
Why does menopause cause forgetfulness?
Menopause impacts cognitive functions, largely due to changes in estrogen levels. Here’s an overview of how these changes can manifest:
- Brain fog: Estrogen plays an important role in brain functions like memory and attention. So its fluctuation and decline during perimenopause and menopause can affect working memory, or the ability to process and store new information.
- Brain communication and mood issues: Estrogen is also crucial for the communication between different areas of the brain, and the production of feel-good neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine. Lower estrogen levels can, therefore, lead to changes in mood.
- Structural changes in the brain: Research shows that the decline in estrogen levels during menopause actually changes the brain’s structure and how it uses energy. These changes can affect regions of the brain associated with memory and cognition, cerebral blood flow, and glucose consumption.
As if these changes weren’t challenging enough, other menopause symptoms–such as hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings–can disrupt sleep patterns, causing fatigue and increased forgetfulness.
Other socio-economic and health-related factors can influence brain function in menopause, as well. These factors include:
- Poverty, which may impact nutritional status and lifestyle
- Level of education
- Substance abuse
- High stress levels
- Access to quality healthcare
- Pre-existing mental health issues
- Other medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or HIV
Any of the above issues could increase your risk of cognitive decline in menopause. But don’t despair. Safe, natural treatments can improve and protect your memory, focus, and ability to process information.
Natural menopause brain fog treatment: tips to reduce forgetfulness
Here are some safe, natural ways to reduce menopausal brain fog and boost cognition.
Remember, it’s always best to consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet, supplements, or exercise routine.
- Regular exercise: Activities like yoga, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling can improve blood flow to the brain and enhance cognitive functions.
- Nutritious diet: Eating plenty of brain-boosting foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can support brain health. Focus on fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and berries. This is essentially The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay), which is specifically designed to support cognitive function.
- Hydration: Drinking plenty of water is crucial for maintaining optimal brain health. The National Academy of Medicine recommends adult women drink nine 8-ounce cups a day.
- Mental stimulation: Mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, reading, learning new skills, or playing musical instruments help keep your brain active, slowing cognitive decline.
- Quality sleep: Getting enough rest is crucial for healthy brain function. Stick to a regular bedtime schedule, and aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night.
- Stress management techniques: Research shows that relaxing activities like deep breathing exercises, tai chi, and even spending time in nature can help manage stress levels, potentially boosting memory and attention span.
- Mindfulness meditation: Studies show that mindfulness meditation helps reduce stress and improve memory and concentration.
- Aromatherapy: Using essential oils like peppermint or lemon can help enhance your focus and mental clarity.
- Soy isoflavones: Research shows that soy supplements may be beneficial for cognitive function during menopause, because they bind to the same receptors as estrogen, and may mimic the effects of the hormone. In one study, participants experienced positive results from taking 60 mg of soy isoflavones a day for 12 weeks.
- Vitamin D: Low vitamin D levels can contribute to fatigue, which may worsen forgetfulness and other “brain fog” symptoms. Research suggests taking 2,000 international units (IU) per day.
- Magnesium: Studies show that increasing magnesium consumption may help ward off dementia. That’s because magnesium plays a critical role in brain health by regulating neurotransmitter function, which is essential for working memory.
- Ginkgo biloba: This herb is known for its ability to increase cerebral blood flow, supporting memory and attention. It’s believed to work by protecting and improving neuron function.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is essential for brain health because of its role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which are crucial for memory and cognition, as well as mood. Its antioxidant properties also help protect the brain from oxidative stress (excess free radicals in cells).
- B vitamins: B vitamins–including B6, B12, and folic acid–play a crucial role in the production of neurotransmitters and neuron function, which are essential for healthy nerve communication and memory retention.
- L-theanine: Found in tea leaves, L-theanine enhances brain function by increasing alpha wave activity, leading to calm alertness, improved focus, reduced stress, and potentially better memory.
Menopause and brain fog can be extremely challenging. But there is hope. With the right guidance and approach, you can protect your cognitive health naturally, and feel better throughout this stage of life–and beyond.